“Did you go in the pit?” My wife’s frown made it clear that this was no casual question. She didn’t really need to ask. I limped very slowly down the stairs, leaning on the bannister. As I collapsed into a chair, exhausted and in pain, one question kept running through my mind, “If only…”
“If only…” How many times have you asked yourself that same question? If only I had ordered chicken instead of fish. If only I had zigged instead of zagged. That morning the question concluded with the words, “If only I had gone to see Ruby the Hatchet instead of Alestorm.”
It was one of those rare occasions in which I had to decide between two concerts. It’s rare enough that I have the time and energy to go at all. Now I faced an embarrassment of riches. Behind Door #1 was Ruby the Hatchet, my favorite slinger of stoner-doom-occult rock that’s straight out of 1972. Door #2 was a wildcard. Alestorm is unique, being, as far as I know, the only Scottish-pirate-metal band in the world. Plus their tour mates, Nekrogoblikon, a melo-death act out of LA sporting a guy in a goblin costume, were pretty unusual themselves.
Perhaps you can imagine (then again, maybe you can’t) just how vexing a choice this was. What tipped the scales in favor of Alestorm was the fact that good friends were also going . If I went to see Ruby, I would be flying solo. Not the end of the world, but it’s always more fun to go with friends.
The Voltage Lounge (formerly Whisky Dick’s) was dark, filthy and cramped… in short, everything you want in a venue for this kind of show. The all-ages crowd was remarkably diverse and included the usual motley assortment of denim, leather and obscure metal t-shirts. But there was also a dude sporting an old school Mohawk, people in pirate and Viking garb, a few black metalers and a surprisingly large proportion of women.
The first two bands were local acts whose surprisingly good chops were obscured by bad sound work. There was a small pit going but nothing exciting enough to entice me, especially because I was still feeling right knee injury from a Gogol Bordello show in the spring. I was happy watching from the balcony and resolved to take it easy.
I don’t have a rational explanation as to why I followed. Maybe it was testosterone. Maybe it was the Fatheads Headhunter IPA I just finished. Whatever the cause, my better judgment checked out for the night.
By and large the pit was extremely energetic but good natured. One standout was a young woman who didn’t just make a cursory pass through the pit but hung with the big boys most of the night. In between songs I shouted to her, “You rock!” She turned to me, gave me the finger, screamed, “Fuck you!” then immediately broke out into a grin and high-fived me. But highlight of the evening had to the stage diving.
I haven’t been to a show where stage diving was allowed in more than twenty years. But during Nekrogoblikon’s set people would surf up, dance on stage or even join in the singing, before hurling themselves onto the hands of the crowd. It was so much fun that John Goblikon got into the act, jumping off the stage and surfing to the back of the crowd before making the return journey.
When Alestorm finally took the stage things reached an even more frenzied pitch. By that point I was not only winded but beginning to feel that my knee was worse for the wear. Again, logic would have dictated a hasty retreat to a safer distance. Yet I stayed.
It would be tempting to say “The beer made me do it.” The only problem with this is that I had only two at the show and had been drinking only water for the last hour. So I truly have no alibi.
Halfway through the set I was done. Looking across at Ben I could see he was fading too. By the last couple of songs the whole pit was barely bumping into one another.
As I hobbled very slowly back to the car I knew something was seriously wrong. But for now there wasn’t much to do about it. It was 1 am and all I wanted was a big glass of cold water, a hot shower, a handful of Advil and bed.
This brings us back to the beginning of our tale and my well-deserved spousal admonishment. Fast forward through several trips to the orthopedic surgeon, some MRI’s, large needles draining pale yellow fluid from my knee, cortisone shots, a brace, a cane and a bottle of Advil and here we are.
As I suspected, the medial meniscus is shot If you don’t know what a meniscus is, that’s not surprising. In simplest terms the meniscus is the rubbery knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thighbone. It can tear from being forcefully torqued which happened plenty in the pit. Since I tore the meniscus of my left knee eight years prior, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m in for. For the next three weeks I’ll be hobbled and have to take it easy. Then comes the arthroscopic surgery. The jagged edge of the tear will be trimmed and all the loose cartilage pieces floating around in my knee get suctioned out.
Recovery isn’t too bad. Walking cast for a day or two and some pain meds. Then it’s just a matter of carefully working my way back. More brace, more cane, more taking it easy. Lord willing I’ll be back to 100% before Christmas which isn’t too bad.
But the real point of this cautionary tale is not so much the what, as the why? Why did I go in that pit when I knew there was a real likelihood that I would get hurt? It’s not the first time I have asked this question. I’m not sure I can explain it but I am sure that at least part of it has to do with trying to deny the fact that I am getting older. At 47 I can tell you my body just ain’t what it used to be. Although I exercise regularly and eat a more healthy diet than I have ever before, the plain facts are that my joints ache and it takes me much longer to recover from a strenuous workout or injury.
So why do I continue to attempt such age-defying stunts when I know that there will only be an ever-increasing price to pay the next day? If I ever discover the answer, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, if you have ever done something stupid and found yourself asking “If only…”, please share your stories and, if you have any, insights as to why.